Internal Branding as an Integral tool for Managing Brand Contact

Mr Tomi Ogunlesi MBA
June 21, 2011 — 1,757 views  
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Marketing is most times misconstrued to be restricted to selling a particular product or service to customers. A number of other integral markets are however equally very key as far as ensuring the overall success of any brand is concerned.

In an earlier piece featured in this column, reference was made to the fact that aside consumers or customers, other important stakeholders exist in the mix, and ideally, each category must be factored into consideration.

A company's employees represent those very set of individuals who can effectively make the brand come alive for customers, or equally otherwise sound the death knell as far as that brand is concerned. It is however rather unfortunate that companies/organizations one way or the other usually fail to take cognizance of this critical realization.

The imperativeness of internal branding need not be over-emphasized as far as holistic brand building and development is concerned. This was clearly illustrated in a number of case studies employed during the course of the A-Z of Branding workshop at Vega, The Brand Communications School, particularly manifest in a case study of the revitalization of the Pep brand, a leading Pan-African mega retailer with South African origins (which also owns the Shoprite brand), a process to which internal branding and employee acculturation was very integral. This was largely premised on the realization that Passion and People are the only recipes for an organization's growth.

Now, at this juncture, the question may be raised "Why is Internal Branding so important"? It is important that we put some fundamental truths into proper perspective here. First, it is because Internal Branding is about the best way to help employees make a powerful emotional connection to the products and services you sell. Without this basic connection, your employees are most likely to undermine (by omission or commission) those expectations that have been heightened in your advertising/communication.

This may occur due to the fact that these individuals simply do not have a clear understanding of the value your brand (which is supposed to be their brand, by implication) has promised and is expected to deliver to its publics, and so they (employees) invariably end up working at cross-purposes to the very ideals the brand is positioned to represent. In another scenario, they may fail to live up to expectation possibly because they do not believe in the brand and as such feel disengaged from(or even worse still, nurse some degree of hostility to) the brand.

It has been clearly established that when people, employees, that is,  care about and believe in a brand, they're properly motivated to work harder, display a positive disposition to duty and  become result-oriented. Their loyalty to the organization commensurately increases, and they are unified and inspired by a common sense of purpose and identity.

A saddening realization however is that internal marketing is still not given much priority, and even when effort is made in this regard, is done poorly. Many executives recognize the need to keep employees informed about the company's  strategy and direction, but strikingly few actually understand and appreciate the need to convince employees of the brand's power, a fact they erroneously take as a given in most instances. The truth is that an organization is just as good as the people it employs.

Another point at which this disconnect sets in is that the very people who have been charged with internal communications and acculturation of employees with organizational ideals, which will typically include HR professionals, in most instances may not have the requisite marketing skills and exposure to communicate successfully - usually information, which is at best unwieldy in nature is doled out via memos, circulars, newsletters and so on, but what's missing is that these are not designed in such a way as will convince employees of the uniqueness of the company's brand.

In instances, the marketing department may come in once a while to keep employees abreast of a new advertising/promotional campaign or ‘branding' effort, but the intent however is usually to inform people about what the company is doing and not to sell them on these ideas.

Now the truth is that by applying many of the principles of consumer advertising to internal marketing/communication, leaders and managers can better guide employees to a clearer understanding of, as well as deeper passion for the brand vision. Applying these principles enables employees to ‘live' the vision in their day-to-day activities. The realization is that when employees of a company are able to live its vision, the more likely customers are to experience that company or brand in a more consistent way with the value proposition/brand promise.

Now what exactly is brand contact and where does the link between this and internal branding lie?

Brand contact incorporates the channels through which consumers/customers connect or interface with a brand as well as their take-outs from such experience. The reality is that a brand is built by positive contact points, that is every contact or experience point and what the consumer takes out of these, howbeit positive or negative. These of course will include all impressions created as the consumer comes in contact with the brand's products, services, distribution channels, communications and of course employees.

Ideally, every point of contact must communicate and reinforce the identity of the brand, for there to be a consistent brand image. An organization's employees, among others are an integral brand contact point, and this underscores the pertinence of internal branding/marketing to ensure their full buy-in into brand values and objectives.

One latent danger inherent in the onset of pressure to develop new products and services, with an attendant effort to squeeze costs out of operations is that there is the strong tendency for internal marketing/brand-building to be easily overlooked. This also stems from the fact that in times of recession, even the external marketing budgets are carefully scrutinized and rationalized, despite the well-established fact that external marketing is very important. The business truth however is that if an organization's employees do not care or are lackadaisical about their company and their disposition to work, they will ultimately contribute to its eventual demise. The onus however lies on the employer to give them strong reason to care about its survival in the first place.

Mr Tomi Ogunlesi MBA

Bates Cosse

A consummate marketing communication professional with experience spanning diverse brand categories ranging between corporate, FMCG, financial services and aviation, among others. A member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM, UK) He is also an alumnus of both Vega, the Brand communications school and the Wits Business School Product Strategy & Brand Management Programme. He is currently a brand strategist at Bates Lagos, where he works as Brand Manager responsible for Segment and Product marketing for a leading African Financial services brand. He is also presently an MBA candidate at the Lagos Business School.